Category Archives: Love

Memories…and emotions

aberfan_1_smI was just watching a BBC Breakfast item about Aberfan. Now if that name means nothing to you then you are probably less that 60 years old. For those of us old enough to remember, it was probably one of those iconic moments in your history that you remember more vividly than most. It certainly is for me.

The item was about the 50th anniversary of the disaster  which was a catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, on 21 October 1966, which killed 116 children and 28 adults. The tip slid down the slope right into an through the primary school and the film footage (very little outside broadcast in those days) showed hopeful but unexpectant men digging and women waiting to hear of the fate of their loved ones. All those mothers waiting outside the school still bring tears to my eyes, as did watching the item and the old footage.

I was intrigued by the unavoidable tears prompted by the memory and in turn the link between emotion and memories. It’s well-known that linking emotion to events helps consolidate them in long-term memory and enable retrieval. (For once, I am going to give a Wikipedia link, because it has an excellent summary of the field). This works in all directions – positive events, traumatic episodes – and one of the ways we work with clients using NLP techniques is to dissociate a traumatic memory from the emotion, thus helping people overcome phobias and to move on from ‘difficult’ situations.

Likewise the idea that it is ‘better’ to give experiences than things, on the basis that a positive experience is more likely to be remembered than some bit of plastic tat that ends up forgotten in the back of the garage.

So how do you create, for yourself or others, events that have some positive emotional content? Fill that memory bank with positives.

A trip back in time

DSC_0279I don’t know who Walter Elliot was, nor how old he was (maybe nobody did) when he died in a foreign field. This was the first name I noticed, perhaps because he came from West Yorkshire; others had no names, yet others no graves.

At the rising of the sun and in its going down, we shall remember them

I hope that someone here in West Yorkshire remembers him.

“How about we spend one of our sessions in Belgium exploring the World War 1 sites” was an innocent enough suggestion a couple of years ago. And it gained traction, and the plans slowly formed, and a decision was made that he Spring 2016 meeting of The Brookfield Group would be based in Ypres, Belgium.

Rail tickets were booked, minibus hired, accommodation sourced, schedule suggested and eventually on 13th April I set off for Winchester. By the time we got to Dover for an early afternoon ferry on Thursday 14th there were 11 of us; by the time we got back to Calais on 18th there were still 11 of us, but we were changed men.

I have posted before about my responses to visiting Auschwitz and reading that post in conjunction with this one could make sense.

I am not aware of any family connections to WW1 and much less interested in history generally than some of my colleagues in Brookfield, and I agreed to go on the basis that the trip would at least enable me to explore my ‘attitude’ in the light of hard experience of visiting the sites of some of the most prolonged and bloody battles. I am so pleased that I went and was abe to share the experience with a bunch of men who have come to know each other well and are able to support each other through thick and thin. Many of us needed that support.

This is not a travelogue, but perhaps listing some of the places we visited would help, so here goes (in no particular order) – The Flanders Field Museum in Ypres, the Commonwealth cemeteries at Tyne Cot, Poperinge, Croonaert, Dantzig Alley and others, The Menin Gate, two memorials to the Welsh contingent, Talbot House, Langermark German Cemetery, the Paschendale Museum, reconstructed trenches at Bayernwald. We saw and revered the resting places of hundreds of thousands of poor young men of so many nationalities; we wept; we laughed; we wondered about the existence of a ‘just war’; we debated (somewhat pointlessly, for who really knows how they will respond in extremis) how we might individually respond if the call came to fight for our country; we took photographs; we bought souvenirs; we left only footprints.

But I left more than footprints, part of MY heart now lies in those foreign fields. The part of my heart that cannot help but pour out in sympathy for those poor young men, those sons of mothers and prides of fathers, who had their lives so rudely torn from them in a conflict that so few of them probably understood. I find myself unable to agree with the mantra so often seen “They gave their lives…” NO THEY DID NOT! The lucky ones had their lives extinguished by a well-placed bullet or massive explosion – over in a flash; the unlucky ones were wounded with inadequate medical support whose job anyway was to get them fit enough to go back and be shot at once more, the even more unlucky spent hours/days in the cold wet trenches with their feet rotting perhaps wondering how much longer this war that would be over before Xmas was going to last before going home with what we now label PTSD but in those days was not recognised and go getting no support as they were unable or unwilling to talk about their horrific experiences; worst of all were those 306 men who were summarily court-martialled and shot at dawn for desertion or cowardice.

I can hardly call them ‘highlights’, perhaps a few more memorable moments:

Flags list major conflicts since WW1 finished.

Flags list major conflicts since WW1 finished.

The exit from The Flanders Field Museum in Ypres – there hangs a series of banners listing the major conflicts that have happened since the end of the war to end all wars. Tragic.

 

DSC_0296

The gardens at Talbot House in Poperinge. A haven for those able to spend time away from the lines – humanity in amongst inhuman carnage. Talbot House was behind the lines and Poperinge was never taken by the Germans. It was the origin of the humanitarian movement TocH, who still work supporting and bringing together disparate parts of society.

 

 

Tyne CotTyne Cot – the largest Commonwealth War Grave containing nearly 12,000 marked graves, over 8000 of which contain unidentified remains as well as names of over 34,000 British and New Zealand soldiers whose remains are still missing in the Ypres Salient.

Eternally watching over them

Eternally watching over them

Finally, Langermark, one of the few German cemeteries. The Germans repatriated most of their fallen. This moving sculpture watches over both named and  unidentified remains of tens of thousands of German fallen.

 

At times it seemed that the only way I could deal with the assault on my senses was to dissociate from what I was witnessing, yet to dissociate would weaken the impact. We now have a generation of politicians who like me have never faced the reality of war, dissociation enables them to send more young men to die in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and all of the many conflicts around the world. Is the ‘war’ against ISIS any more just than WW1? What view would a utilitarian take of war? Is the participative democracy that we believe in and send people to defend and impose really much better than a benevolent dictatorship? Would fewer people die and/or live at least acceptable lives has Saddam, Assad, ISIS etc been allowed to do what they were doing for longer? Conflict is generally ended by enemies sitting down talking to each other, should we be more prepared to spend longer talking before getting the guns out?  Unanswerable questions, but questions we should surely explore openly and often, let’s not allow a ‘war is the answer’ mindset to proliferate.

How do I feel now? A host of words come to mind, but I have yet to find a label for a complex set of emotions that includes anger (unwanted because anger only fuels disputes), sadness and disappointment that the lessons have yet to be learned and so many around the world still think that the way to resolve their differences with others is to send more young men to their graves, grief for those who suffered (some briefly and some for many years after the conflict was over), helplessness to prevent it happening again, pleased that I went on the trip, disconcerted that the prickliness that I often manage to control leaked out during those times when my internal editor was tired out.

If you get the chance to go on such a trip please take it – you are likely to learn about yourself as well as history.

ADDENDUM

I finally managed to capture these thoughts a couple of weeks after our trip:

I saw graves and names beyond count
Graves with no name and names with no grave
I heard the gentle hum of the traffic, the whispering of the wind in the trees, the gentle twittering of the birds
I tried to hear the grim sounds of battle, the cries of agony, the last whispers of millions of lives being extinguished
I felt it all and I felt nothing
The despair, the passion, the pain
The hundred years of separation and the lifetime of privilege
I cried and I cry now that lessons have to be learned anew by each generation
Young lives are too important to waste in pursuit of some ego or ideology
No more, no more
If only, if only…

Reflections on friendship

LoveAs I have mentioned elsewhere, I am almost overwhelmed by the outpourings of support and expressions of love that have come my way since disclosing my current pituitary challenge. I am immensely grateful for all of these and I find myself reflecting, as I would, on the processes happening here.

All of the things that have been said to me have been supportive, and some not only been wonderful but also somewhat unexpected. Unexpected not only in content but the fact that they have been said at all.

I am left wondering how often we fail to express our deepest feelings for others. Whether we keep that love, respect, appreciation, recognition, whatever ‘under our hat’ or whether we choose to express it. Are we perhaps more able/willing to write down our innermost thoughts? Do we take those thoughts and feelings for granted, always assuming that the other person somehow knows through some mysterious process how much they are valued?

Let’s not hold back. Let’s express our love for each other, our respect for someone’s ability, our recognition of someone’s contribution – whilst the emotion is hot rather than leaving it to cool down and lose its power.

So, whoever you are reading this, THANK YOU. It’s important to me that this blog is not just a piece of self-aggrandisment but also something that others find interesting for whatever their own reasons.

Migrants, refugees, hordes, people…

Refugees

Refugees

This is a thinkpiece, and perhaps inevitably something of an opinion piece as well, about the current challenges faced by people fleeing for whatever reason from the Middle East.

These people, for whatever other label we choose to apply to them they are all people – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, neighbours, friends – have all chosen to travel thousands of miles, often in appalling circumstances and at risk to both lives and future financial capacity, to escape a regime that dehumanises them in so many ways. Ethnic cleansing, oppression of women, forced combat status, simply being in the wrong place when an oppressive (and yes I reaise that is MY values surfacing) regime decides to start shelling or gassing or raping and pillaging or abducting women/children/men – add your own reasons for wanting to escape ISIS/ISIL/DAISH. As an aside, why do so many politicians insist on using a label – DAISH or DA’ESH – that is known to be offensive? It would certainly piss me off if every time someone referred to me I was called “tosspot” and I would not be likely to engage with them on neutral terms – here is one explanation from The Deconstructed Globe:

In all of the Arabic countries, ISIS is referred to as DAISH, which is short for ‘Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq wa al-Sham’, Arabic for the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (Syria).  What makes the Arabic acronym interesting is that the Arabic word  ‘دعس‘ , or daish, which means to ‘tread under foot‘ or ‘crush‘.   I’ve been meaning to look this up for a while, and I’m glad I finally did.  The Arabic acronym is pejorative and clearly hostile, unlike the English word Isis, which is the name of a powerful Egyptian goddess.

But back to the people massing on the shores of Europe. One might argue how great it is that we have created a culture/economy that is so successful and, by and large, accommodating that people want to live here. Does it have to be a culture/economy that is restricted to those of us living here now? Let’s be honest, much of Europe’s success has been built on the Imperial past of the UK, France, Germany, Austria. An Imperial past that, to be very polite, ‘drew on’ the resources to be found in those far-flung lands where we managed to impose our will. We cannot deny our implicit connection to the oilfields of the Middle East, any more than we can dismiss our earlier pillaging of India, Western Africa, the Caribbean etc.

It was us that drew the lines on a map delineating most of the Middle East. Lines that crossed traditional tribal or other groupings, just as the lines dividing India from Pakistan led to discontent that remains today.

It was us that armed and supported regimes that turned tyrannical and now we find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma about how to support whom in the mess that we helped create.

It is us who, if we believe the conflicts to be religious in catalysis, refuse to remember the death and destruction wielded in the name of Christianity. Crikey, if we think the Sunni/Shia division is baffling then how do we account for the Cathars driven to extinction by ethnic cleansing by a Pope who did not like their particular form of Catholicism.

But back to today’s people and ‘our’ response to the reality that so many hundreds of thousands see themselves living a better life in Europe. Can you imagine yourself so dissatisfied with what is happening where you live that you set off to walk thousands of miles across countries you have never visited, across desert with little water or food, carrying your life possessions on your back with your wife, children, mother, grandmother in your company. The when you get somewhere near your destination – Europe – you find it necessary to pay mmore than your life savings to an unscrupulous human trafficker who packs you so tight in an unseaworthy vessel that your mother slips overboard never to be seen again, your child dies of the crush in a locked below-decks compartment and your wife is raped in front of your eyes by those traffickers who you so hoped would lead you to a better life? Go on, imagine it. I have tears in my eyes as I just write these sentences. These people are HUMANS like you or I, with desires and dreams like you or I, but without the ability to make them happen.

You finally make it to your destination, only to find that instead of the dream you are living in the open air or under a plastic sheet with thousands of others who made it. You are treated as criminals by regimes who you believed were more compassionate than the one you escape. You are held in detention centres while some bureaucrat driven by Political will, decides whether HE thinks it was worth all your sacrifice to get here.

We were happy to accept, even encourage the inhabitants of many of our former colonies to come to our textile factories, our buses, our shipyards, our hospitals. We were even magnificent, albeit probably not magnificent enough, in helping thousands escape the Nazis. Yet here we are making it difficult, and more difficult by the day, for those who look up to us, who value our freedoms to share in them. How selfish. How uncaring that we pay for fences and razor wire to stop a few thousand desperate migrants/refugees/whatever coming over from France. How petty-minded that when Germany has accepted over 800,000 such people we are resisting a few tens of thousands. How ridiculous that we spend millions on arming and training and even bombing one or other regime in the Middle East while we refuse to help those fleeing from the carnage.

Let’s find a way out of this situation that treats these poor people as human beings, that shares our wealth with them (maybe the oil companies could ‘repatriate’ some of the profits they make out of ‘their’ oil to the people in such dire straits) and that positions us as a beacon of human responses to human challenges. We need to address both the cause and the effect, we focus on the effect because it is here in our backyard whereas the cause is thousands of miles away in foreign lands so many of us do not understand.

Refugees welcome in german footballWhat a delight to see German football fans with signs saying “Refugees welcome here”. What a delight to hear of Icelandic families offering their homes to refugees.

And what a shame on us that 67% of the population think that sending the Army to France to restore order is an answer!

And one final question. How much is it costing us to resist the few thousand in Calais, compared to how much it would cost to treat them as deserving humans and find room for them in our so-called compassionate society?

We ate at The Man Behind The Curtain

The Man Behind The Curtain - brilliant Leeds RestaurantStylish, witty, inventive and best of all extremely tasty.

If, possibly like some of those curmudgeons who give low marks, you want to go home feeling stuffed then go to your local fish & chip shop; if however you want to go home feeling nicely replete after experiencing a series of often surprising, and always interesting and successful, tastes then head here as soon as you can afford the (£65 per head) tasting menu which is the only offering on an evening.

First, the room. On the 3rd (top) floor above Flannels men’s clothing shop it is airy with well-spaced tables (your private tete-a-tetes will not be overheard here) and very ‘modern’ and edgy art on the walls. A big space (50 covers?) is broken up by strategically placed walls with the bar along one wall and the open kitchen along another. Sitting watching dishes being assembled, and having the chance to chat to the chef and his very small brigade (who often served and explained the dishes) was endlessly fascinating and added to the enjoyment for me. Don’t be put off by the dress policy stated on the website; the night we were there I did not see a single men’s jacket and it’s much more the kind of dressing up that would be appropriate in a continental high end restaurant than a stuffy British one. And finally on the facilities, go to the loo whether you want to or not – surprising toilet tissue!

Now the food. From beginning to end, over 2½ hours and 12 (?) courses later, we were presented with a series of small portions of spectacularly presented and often even more spectacularly flavoured dishes. Each came with its own cutlery presented to the table in a black box – an intriguing touch. Here goes with some of them:

Poached chicken and foie gras ‘sandwich’ between two piece of crispy chicken skin – one of the standout tastes for me. It exploded in the mouth with layer after layer of chickeny flavour which just kept coming and lasted in the mouth. A plate of these alone would have made my night!

TMBTC soup treeRazor clam poaching in a mussel consommé dripped with parsley oil – never has razor clam tasted so sweet. It’s a single mouthful beautifully presented in a sort of tree contraption with a spoonful of the creation balanced on one of the branches.

Langoustine ‘sashimi’ – morsels of raw langoustine served with a lavender smear (yes, he does them!), dill(?) oil, pickled carrot and all sorts of other tiny little bits of flavour that created a harmonious and spectacular whole.

Black cod – wittily presented under a cover of shards of crispy salt & vinegar flavoured potato shards which were drifted with a black (squid ink) powder. VERY upmarket fish & chips was the resultant taste. Clever, witty, moresome.

Ox cheek – clearly cooked for hours, it was soooo…. soft and deeply flavoured before it was covered in a foie gras foam and puffed wild rice.

I’m running out of superlatives for the food, so perhaps here is a chance to talk about drinks. A very ‘sensible’ wine list has maybe 50 bottles but no outrageous £500+ ones and best of all they offer 3 different flights to accompany the meal. One of us opted for the standard one, rejecting the premium pairings, and I was driving so was delighted to find a soft drinks pairing available. Some of the pairings were outstandingly good and the highlight was a carrot and passion fruit juice with the ox cheek, yes it works but how does it work this well? It was actually much more successful than the Oloroso Sherry that accompanied the ox from the alcoholic flight. Servings of wine were plentiful and at least once we got a top-up, no skinflints tasting portions here.

But back to the food…next came a big rectangle of slightly fluorescent orange Perspex (watch out for the interesting range of ‘crockery’) onto which was artfully arranged slices of a cut from near the shoulder of an Iberico pig, some cracking, anchovies and baked purple potatoes, all drizzled with something creamy and pink. Stunning!

Onwards to desserts, starting with the highlight – a tiny little cup cake appearance, which we were advised to eat whole including the (rice paper) wrapping, revealed a mystery chocolate shell which cracked open in the mouth pouring passion fruit flavours over the creamy, and much more complex than I can recall, outer. More please.

Gin & tonic marshmallows, peanut butter doughnuts…

All in all, a wonderful experience and I hope that The Man Behind The Curtain can succeed where Anthony Flinn, despite his many talents, could not. It’s not as good as L’Enclume, which is my closest reference point to the whole experience, but then again they have been open less than a year and that Lake District delight does have 2 Michelin ‘stars’ after all.

GO and be amazed.

What matters to me?

An exercise for which the brief was to write about what matters to me, knowing that there was no intention of sharing it with others in the group. Well, I am happy to share it with the world. This is the first piece that has been edited – only very slightly.

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InnerLove“What is it that matters to me?”

Where to start – people, places, things, experiences? All of these and yet none of these, for love can attach itself to any or all of them; and love of myself rises above them all. For unless I can love myself, then how can I truly love anyone or anything else?

Love is not blind, love comes from knowing that I am meeting my own inner needs, even when that need is to please or care for or support another. For love is not unitary – there lies narcissism – love is of the universe and involves and affects the universe. Love stands both alone and accompanied above all material things; providing inspiration and support and the way to find a route through the most difficult times. “I love you” provides both hope and reassurance, it offers both the giver and the receiver the prospect of a bright and thrilling future. Between lovers, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and even enemies it can lay a platform on which to build, a basis for co-operation and a safe and touching closure when times have been tough.

It matters that I am loved, yet that can only happen if I am able to love others. It is a gift that need never expire, unlike that gift voucher or bunch of flowers. The words seem to carry more meaning when spoken than when written or embodied in some artefact, yet even those can still be touching reminders – the photo of a loved one in the wallet, a faded wedding bouquet, the coffee cup bought in a tiny village in Cuba, the painting of irises hanging above the fireplace. They carry love, but the are not love itself, for love itself resides only in my heart and in your. A touch, a glimpse, an overheard word, all reminders of your presence and my inner comfort.

John Lennon was right.